Regulatory Risks Faced by Importers Caught With Mislabeled Seafood Products

The FDA has special requirements for importing of seafood. For this reason, the importer's docks may be the most likely location for regulatory inspection. Under current law, the FDA may debar a person from importing an article of food or offering such an article for import into the United States if that person has been convicted of a felony for conduct relating to the importation into the United States of any food. The law also provides that the FDA may debar a person if that person has engaged in a pattern of importing or offering for import adulterated food that presents a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals. The statute allots the agency up to five years to take such action.* Furthermore, if a regulator were to find misbranded product, the chain of liability would likely not extend past the importer, thus the importer would bear the brunt of the regulatory fine, because the importer would be the first company to introduce the misbranded product into US commerce. Thus, an importer could face liability up to 5 years after each import of seafood. By insuring they are not selling misbranded or adulterated seafood using AFT, importers can be provided with peace of mind through this extended period.

Regulators are stepping up enforcement. NOAA, USDA, FDA, state agencies, and other government agencies each enforce statutes governing areas that can affect importers. The FDA Office of Criminal Investigations recently prosecuted the former CEO of Sterling Seafood Corporation, sentencing him to 22 months in prison for importing falsely labeled fish from Vietnam. NOAA recently gained convictions on three people for their roles in purchasing and then re-selling farm-raised Asian catfish and Lake Victoria perch falsely labeled as grouper, sole or snapper; two import businesses closed as a result of these convictions. Many other examples can be found, but the point is that the government is taking mislabeling of seafood more seriously today than ever before.


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